Will immunotherapy be successful for treating diseases like HIV/AIDS?

HIV integrates into CD4+ T cells, gradually depleting their numbers and resulting in immunocompromised individuals and leading to AIDS onset if left untreated. Current therapies geared towards managing HIV-progression to AIDS largely consist of anti-retrovirals. Combination treatment involving several antiretrovirals slows down AIDS progression but does not cure HIV infection. Additionally, long-term use of anti-retrovirals results in side effects such as premature aging and the rise of other comorbidities such as heart disease and cancer.

The discovery of the “Berlin Patient”, an HIV-positive individual who was cured of his infection when receiving a modified form of immunotherapy for treating acute myeloid leukemia. Upon receiving stem cell transplants from a donor containing a fortified gene for T cells, this patient went on to demonstrate efficient recovery without the use of anti-retrovirals.1 This case renewed efforts into investigating immunotherapies that target immune cells such as dendritic cells and cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs). Several clinical trials are currently in progress to determine long-term safety and efficacy, and it is conceivable that immunotherapy will be used as a standard form of HIV treatment in the future.2 For more information on immunotherapy and other related topics please visit our resource center.

1. A. Ali and C. R. Rinaldo, "A Novel anti-HIV immunotherapy to cure HIV," AIDS 31(3):447-449, 2017.
2. D. Tomsitz, et al., "Treatment of a patient with HIV and metastatic melanoma with consecutive ipilimumab and nivolumabm," J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol 32(1):26-28, 2017.